Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 9
 
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
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Music/Theater

The Glee Club of Princeton University Shows Off Its Chamber Choir and Soloists

Nancy Plum

It is always refreshing to see Princeton University students supporting the University ensembles by attending their concerts. Students come to the hall with computers in hand to work right up to the minute the concert begins, and they cheer on their friends as they take the stage. Saturday night’s concert of the Princeton University Glee club and Chamber Choir brought both students and community residents to Richardson Auditorium for a clean performance of three interesting choral works.

St. Cecilia’s Day is in November, but there is no inappropriate day to hear Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia, a three-verse motet challenging to even the best of choral ensembles. Conductor Richard Tang Yuk assigned the piece to the fourteen-voice Princeton University Chamber choir, spacing the singers around the stage in mixed formation to elicit the smoothest blend possible. This concert formation demanded very independent singing of the choristers, and the voices Dr. Tang Yuk had selected were well up to the task. Dr. Tang Yuk assembled the chorus with only three sopranos and three basses, placing more voices on the inner parts. The four tenors blended together well, and although only three in number, the sopranos’ sound shimmered over the rest of the chorus. All of these singers were confident in themselves and in the other singers in the ensemble. Soprano Paavana Kumar added a very clear solo to the second verse of the work.

The Walter L. Nollner Concert, featuring J.S. Bach’s Mass in b minor, will take place at 8 p.m in Richardson Auditorium on Saturday, April 18. For information call (609) 258-9220 or go online to www.princeton.edu/utickets.

Dr. Tang Yuk and composition graduate student Anne Hege traded places for the second piece on the program, as conductor joined the bass section and Ms. Hege conducted her own Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, a clever setting of a poem by Wallace Stevens. Like the Britten work, Ms. Hege’s piece began with the tenors, leading to a long evolving dissonance over thirteen short verses. The singers heavily punctuated the “k” of “blackbird,” and all those “k”s together sounded indeed like a blackbird cawing. Ms. Hege employed John Adams-like motivic repetition drone to set off a text which was well-enunciated by the singers. Alto Carolann Buff sang some very low alto solo lines with clarity and richness.

Dr. Tang Yuk closed the concert with the full Glee Club, more than fifty strong and with an unusually large bass section. The full-voiced glee Club, with a number of solos taken from the chorus, presented Franz Joseph Haydn’s Schöpfungmesse, one of the composer’s six “great” masses. The mass was accompanied on piano by Princeton senior TaoTao Liu, and although the accompaniment did not have the coloristic variety an orchestra would have provided, Ms. Liu was well able to capture a Classical feel to the music.

The Glee Club showed its best work in the quick precise sections requiring a real choral bite. Dr. Tang Yuk paid particular attention to dynamic contrasts (such as in the “Gloria”) and asked for a solid choral blend throughout the work.

With so many soloists being given a chance, there was a bit of high traffic on the stage, but the variety of voices assigned solos was refreshing. Maya Srinivasan doubled effectively and clearly as soprano and alto soloist, and tenor Vijay Ramani was a fresh and appealing voice in the “Et incarnates” section of the “Credo.” Sopranos Alexis Rodda, Brenda Jin, and Rebecca Harper sang with clear and light sounds, joined by altos Olivia Kang and Sylvia Dee, tenors Tim Keeler and basses Tom Kneeland, Alex Prato, and Adam Fox. The solo quartet for the “Agnus Dei” — soprano Beth Wesche, alto Olivia Kang, tenor Tom Gavula, and bass Brad Baron — was particularly well blended, with the women’s voices meshing well.

This mid-winter concert was no doubt just a warm-up for the major spring choral performance by the Glee Club of J.S. Bach’s monumental Mass in b minor, which the ensemble will present as the annual tribute to Walter Nollner in April. Given how crisp the Haydn work was in this past weekend’s concert, the Glee Club should well be able to handle the intricacies and coloratura requirements of Bach.

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